New research has found that support for the British National Party is higher in London than any other part of the UK, with 23 per cent of Londoners saying they would consider voting for the far-Right party.
Speaking at the launch of The Far Right in London: a challenge for local democracy?, Professor Helen Margetts of Oxford University, a member of the team that carried out the research for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, said: ‘The far Right has entered the mainstream of London politics.’
In mayoral, assembly and European elections in London, the British National Party (BNP) and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) vote doubled between 2000 and 2004 and, in 2004, the BNP narrowly missed gaining a seat in the London Assembly, losing by only a handful of votes. In the same year, 45 per cent of Londoners said in a survey that they would consider voting for either the BNP or UKIP.
Another of the researchers, Professor Peter John of Manchester University, pointed out at the launch that, in London, unlike other parts of the UK, the wards where the BNP did well were also the wards where UKIP did well, suggesting that both parties were appealing to the same mindset. ‘With the decline of UKIP’, he asked, ‘will these votes now switch to the BNP?’ One in five UKIP voters put the BNP as their second choice in the London mayoral elections in 2004.
The BNP, which currently has twenty-one councillors in England, is planning to stand six hundred candidates in local elections in May 2006. Forty seats, all of which are vulnerable to a swing of less than 5 per cent, are to be specifically targeted. Barking, Dagenham and Epping are to be the key target areas in London. In the May 2005 general election, the BNP gained 16.9 per cent of the vote in the Barking constituency and 9.3 per cent in Dagenham.
The centrepiece of the BNP campaign in 2006 is likely to be the London bombings. The party has already claimed that they would not have happened if its warnings on immigration had been heeded. A BNP leaflet entitled ‘If only they had listened to the BNP’ was put out soon after the London bombings as part of a local election campaign in the Goresbrook ward of Barking and Dagenham.
Nick Lowles, of the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, predicted at the launch of the research that support for the BNP in London would grow in the future as the economy weakens, the Conservative Party takes a more moderate turn, UKIP continues its demise and the BNP becomes more strategically sophisticated.
Whereas research among voters in northern towns found that there, until recently, the BNP attracted votes from young people and from some former Conservative Party supporters in wealthier wards around Burnley and Calderdale, in London, it remained older, working-class voters who had turned to the far Right, after becoming dissatisfied with the Labour Party.
The focus group research carried out as part of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust study suggests that the main issue which is driving rising support for the BNP in outer east London is immigration, although this issue has acted as a symbol for a host of other dissatisfactions, such as poor housing and education. There is, in addition, a deep-seated disillusionment with mainstream political parties, particularly Labour, which is seen as no longer representing the interests of local, working-class Whites.
A series of false stories, popularised by BNP leaflets that are put out during election campaigns, has exacerbated the racial twist to these issues. For example, in Barking and Dagenham, the BNP claimed that the Labour Party was providing Africans with £50,000 grants to buy houses in the borough. The ‘Africans for Essex’ story, as it became known, was not challenged by the council and soon became accepted as fact. Similar tactics have been used successfully by the BNP in other local elections, such as in Broxbourne, on the north-eastern fringes of London, where the party claimed that a local pub was to be converted into an asylum centre.
In response to this, the authors of the research argue that the BNP’s support can best be reduced by other parties directly challenging misconceptions, particularly on issues of race and immigration, at a local level.
The Far Right in London: a challenge for local democracy? is published by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. The research was carried out by Professor Peter John (University of Manchester), Helen Margetts (Oxford University), David Rowland (University College London) and Stuart Weir (University of Essex).